Tag Archives: saints

I Hear Voices

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My favorite weather report is windy and cold. I know I’m in the minority with that vote. Most people prefer hot summer days. I do not. You need to respect my opinion and move on. I don’t expect you to agree with me. I’m not campaigning for cold, windy, wet weather fans. I don’t understand why people are so scandalized by my preferences. When I claim to like windy, cold days, people act like I’ve personally offended them. It’s as if I’ve confessed to stuffing ballot boxes or buying an outfit to a wear to a party that I plan on returning to the store the next day. There’s nothing unnatural about preferring overcast days to sunny ones. It’s unusual, I admit, but my preference doesn’t make me freaky. I’m a little bit tired of having to defend my views on weather. I like storms, too. Deal with it.

Where I live, I don’t get nearly enough windy, cold days. When I luck up weather-wise, I have to hide my delight from the sun-worshipping masses. I check my grin and grumble a bit to fit in with my fellow commuters, but secretly, I’m throwing a little party in my head. I especially like the sound effects on cold-weather days—a roaring fire, rustling leaves spinning across the sidewalk, and the whooshing effect of wind rattling the last dry leaves clinging tenaciously to tree branches. Those sounds are so much prettier than the incessant clicking of cicadas on a hot, humid summer night. That is a harsh, repetitious, non-melodious noise that I associate with misery. In fact, that’s the sound of crazy in the South, if you ask me.

Prepare yourself. I’m asking you to keep an open mind as you continue reading. I need room to write here, a little literary license, often defined as a willing suspension of disbelief, and some leeway. Humor me for the next few paragraphs, and I promise to give you something interesting to think about for the next few days.

The sounds of wind blowing through trees, a faint, whispering murmur, sounds just like voices to my ears. In my imagination, those voices could belong to all the people I have ever loved in my life who have died before me. Before you get all worked up, let me reassure you that I’ve not gone round the bend, I promise. You don’t need to call someone to check on me. Let me explain.

Instinctively, I strain to make out faint sounds when I hear them. We all do. So when I hear the wind rustling the leaves and branches of trees, a sound that mimics human speech to my ears, I close my eyes and concentrate. If someone is trying to talk to me, I want to be hear what he or she has to say. What if that could really happen? I want so desperately to hear those voices distinctly and to connect with people I’ve loved who have died. This is the stuff of ghost-hunter fantasies. I’ve never pursued such hobbies myself, but I’m open-minded. I have gone on ghost tours in Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana. (That’s a whole industry now, in case you didn’t know. People will do anything to make money. Humans are resourceful like that. I think it’s an admirable trait.) Those were fun. And I had a friend who had a Ouija board when I was young, but we never got any messages to the other side. I wanted to stop for a palm reading several times on long trips with my husband, but I have never been able to talk him into it. He said I could just roll down the car window and throw my money out to get the same result. He’s not as interested in being open-minded as I am.

Haven’t you ever longed for contact with someone who has died, even though you know it’s impossible? Sometimes, I think I can hear those people in the wind, as if they are discussing the upcoming SEC football schedule among themselves. It’s just a faint, murmuring sound. The experience reminds me of the time my dentist showed me a cavity on my X-ray. “Can you see what I’m talking about?” he asked, looking down at my upturned face. “I think so,” I replied, “but it’s possible I’m imagining it.”

When I feel the chill wind on my face and hear the murmuring, I feel sure that the presence of those voices is real, as real as other conversations I overhear when I’m walking down the street passing pedestrians deeply engaged on their cell phones, or when I make my way past tables of bar patrons in search of a bathroom. When I lie on a beach with my eyes closed, my face turned up to the sun, my body draped across a lounger, I hear conversations around me ebb and flow against the background of waves crashing on the shore. We can all agree those conversations are real. What is so different about the possibility of . . . more?

When I walk across campus after teaching all day on my way to the parking lot, my brain is tired and more open to hearing voices. (You could argue here that my students have actually driven me mad, and I am hearing voices because I’m two minutes away from crazy town. That’s one interpretation.) In the minute right before I drift off to sleep at night, I think I’m more open to the sounds around me, too. Voices, maybe echoes of former conversations, seem to crescendo and demand that I pause to remember the random people who have crossed my path over the years.

I know, I know. Hearing voices isn’t a good sign—is it? I might be in need of medication or a hearing check-up, but I don’t think it’s something boring like that. Don’t worry. The voices don’t threaten me or give me instructions or anything scary like that. It’s just a warm presence I feel, like hearing the noises from a fun dinner party my parents hosted when I was a child when I was tucked into bed on another floor of the house. It was nice, even then, to hear those pleasant sounds. It made me feel safe and happy. I knew I wasn’t alone, and I had nothing to fear.

I believe there are proverbial thin places in the world, spots where this world and the next one are close, literally, as if we are only separated by a sheer veil, (think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban here) but I believe the thin places may be different for everyone. There is some scholarly reading on this topic if you’re interested. I’m not the first person to talk about this by a long shot, which is reassuring, I admit.

When I allow my mind to wander, or when I’m especially tired, that’s when I hear . . . more. Have you ever experienced a thin place in your own life? Open yourself up to the possibility. Listen carefully. You might hear voices, too. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I think we’re both perfectly sane. We are in good company in those thin places—in more ways than one.

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Construction-Paper Hearts

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I love Valentine’s Day. I love every single thing about it. I love the romance of it. I love that the holiday excludes extended family members. I love that it doesn’t require decorations. I love that I don’t have to spend big money on my valentine (although if you can do so without eating chicken noodle soup for a month, and you are so inclined, then don’t let me stand in the way of any jewelry purchases.) I love that you never really know who will send you a valentine—the boy you dated in college, your eighty-year-old father, or your five-year-old piano student. Little surprises are my favorite.

I can’t tell you how disgusted I feel when I hear a man say he can’t think of anything to do for his one, true love on Valentine’s Day. Baloney. Can’t be bothered is more like it. I can think of dozens of things ANYONE can do. For example, if you want to steer around crowded restaurants filled with smooching couples, or you wisely wish to avoid another charge on your credit card, pick up an inexpensive bottle of wine and a take-away appetizer on your way home from work. I think there is something particularly festive about Chinese food, something to do with the boxes, maybe, but it could also be the chopsticks or the fortune cookies. However, since I won’t be there, get whatever works for the two of you. Set the stage for a romantic picnic in your own home—NOT the kitchen table or anywhere else you normally eat. Spread a tablecloth or blanket on the floor. Avoid the kids’ sheets with Disney characters splashed across them. Buzz Lightyear is not going to set the mood you are looking for. Light a candle. (Men: Look in the drawer with the flashlight, batteries, and matches. Find the candles without asking your wife where she keeps them, which is a real buzz-kill.) Use a piece of your wedding china to plate the appetizer and two crystal goblets. (They’re in the china cabinet in the dining room, not in the kitchen with the coffee mugs.) Blindfold your wife. Lead her to your romantic nook. She’ll be impressed. I promise. Total financial outlay: less than twenty bucks if you don’t get carried away in the wine store.

You could also ask your wife to meet you for lunch at a favorite spot or somewhere new and exotic. Stop along the way to buy flowers from a street vendor like you are a character in a romantic comedy. Fill up her arms with blossoms. Every time you hand her a flower, pay her a compliment to go with it. You might say, “Lilies—the first flowers I ever sent you,” or “Red roses—remember the ones on our honeymoon?” A girl can get drunk on compliments. If you can’t think of any compliments, make some up. This is as good a time to use your imagination for something more than the possibilities for the final-four bracket in college basketball.

If you are on a budget, stop by the library, and check out your wife’s favorite romantic movie. Watch it with her. Pretend that you like it, too. You could also write a poem for your wife. WAIT! COME BACK! It doesn’t have to be original. You can check out a volume of poetry at the same library where you got the movie. (Yes, your library card can actually be used for books as well as movies.) A little too uptown for your taste? Think about song lyrics if that makes it easier for you. I never met a man in my life who didn’t think he could write a great song. It doesn’t have to rhyme. You could write a haiku. Short and sweet. Heck, you could write a funny limerick. Give yourself extra points for dirty words. It is Valentine’s Day, after all. Lighten up. Have some fun with it. Write your poem on a paper heart you cut out yourself. Sign it. Put it in an envelope with your valentine’s name on it. I guarantee you that extra points will be awarded for effort.

I especially love that Valentine’s Day is the one day in the entire year when everybody else seems inclined to eat as much chocolate as I do on a regular basis. This holiday is a guilt-free, chocolate-eating-free-for-all, and that is absolution bound to make me sweetly disposed toward others. If you can afford it, go for elaborately wrapped, expensive chocolate, but remember that you can get the same result if you go to the drugstore and load up a bag with every candy bar your wife enjoys most. Show you’ve been paying attention to her candy preferences over the years, and she will remember why she fell in love with you. For example, if you know your wife is partial to Almond Joy candy bars even though she hates almonds, have a bag of Almond Joys all ready for her with the almonds already sucked off. She will know you are, indeed, her soul mate.

Homemade valentine cards are the best thing about Valentine’s Day. I keep the valentines my children made for me when they were preschoolers in a box under my bed, and when I get the urge to have DNA tests performed on them to see if they are, indeed, the same children I gave birth to years ago, the squiggly writing and shakily drawn hearts remind me of the years when my children thought I was the most extraordinary human on the planet. Now, of course, they look at me like I have three heads, leprosy, or like a guest who accidentally burps in the middle of a wedding.

Best of all, I love that on Valentine’s Day, my husband always gives me a romantic card that makes me feel loved—even if I was cheerfully thinking of divorcing him a scant twenty-fours hours before. He has never forgotten Valentine’s Day. That might be the reason we’ve been married for so many of them. Sometimes we were broke on Valentine’s Day, sometimes not. It never mattered. As I tell my sons, a single flower or one beautifully wrapped chocolate says the same thing as a dozen.

Even the history of St. Valentine is romantic. Theological scholars don’t know that much about him, but I like the theory that he helped persecuted Christians wed in secret. Maybe if he’d done a little matchmaking for the emperor, he could have kept his head. Of course, then he wouldn’t have been a saint. The suffering and traumatic denouement are requirements for sainthood. My family will tell you that I have a “thing” for saints. If you don’t know your saints, I urge you to do some reading in this area. Saints’ lives are colorful, to say the least. You don’t make it to sainthood by living a boring life. Passion. Dedication. Romance. The saints have all that in spades. Little warning: It never ends well.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. There’s nothing you can say about Valentine’s Day that will make me change my mind. Of course, I realize it’s a made-up holiday. I know it’s a rainmaker for florists and greeting-card vendors. The thing is: I don’t care. I understand that many people see Valentine’s Day as the cliché of all clichés. I just don’t think a cliché is anything to be ashamed of.

I promise you that a construction-paper valentine, cut out with kitchen scissors, with a romantic sentiment scrawled across it in a man’s own handwriting, is one of the most romantic gestures I know. Even now, a homemade valentine makes me wish I carried cloth hankies in my handbag every day instead of just for funerals. I hate having to wipe away sentimental tears with paper napkins that say Pizza Hut on them. It cheapens the moment.

The thing about clichés is that they got to be clichés by appealing to a large demographic. I’m not one bit embarrassed about being a member of the Valentine’s Day fan club. I say we women should stop apologizing for having a soft spot for this holiday. While I’m confessing, let me just go ahead and say that I also love bubble baths, milk chocolate, the occasional trashy novel, and shopping for fun. Is that so wrong? Why are simple pleasures the subject of such ridicule? Pure snobbery, I think.

Every woman in the world, from age twelve or so until senility, is looking for romance, yearning for it, actually, in everyday life. Sadly, it is very rare. It takes so little effort, time, or money, really, for men to be romantic. Sure, Valentine’s Day puts the pressure on publicly, but we all know a few men out there who need a jumpstart, men who say, “What? Is it Valentine’s Day already? Didn’t I just buy you a Christmas present?” A man who says that is not, I repeat not, what we are looking for in any way, shape, or form.

What we want is the Cinderella ending. It’s a long shot. Real life interrupts good intentions, lifelong promises, and heartfelt pledges of eternal love. Every grown-up woman knows that. To all you men out there, I say: If you’ve never made a big romantic gesture in your life, this is the one day of the year when it would not seem corny. On February 14th, every woman you know—old, young, fat, skinny, married, single, divorced, sweet, or mean as a cottonmouth—EVERY woman checks the mail carefully for a valentine with her name on the envelope. She answers the door with a fast-beating heart, hoping for a blossom or two, and she checks under her pillow, on the kitchen table, in her car, and in your coat pocket to see if there is a small surprise there for her from you.

*Want more? This is an excerpt from my third book, I Love You–Now Hush. Check it out! 

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